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(LEAD) Samsung heir questioned as bribery suspect in influence-peddling scandal

All Headlines 10:14 January 12, 2017

(ATTN: UPDATES with Lee's remark in 3rd para; ADDS para 9, photo)

SEOUL, Jan. 12 (Yonhap) -- Samsung's heir apparent was questioned by investigators as a bribery suspect Thursday as special investigators in Seoul accelerated their probe into the influence-peddling scandal centered on President Park Geun-hye and her friend.

Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics Co., appeared before the investigation team's office in southern Seoul to undergo questioning over suspicions the country's largest business group gave undue financial support to Park's friend Choi Soon-sil in return for business favors.

"I deeply apologize to the people for failing to show a positive image because of this incident," he said upon arrival.

Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong (C) is surrounded by reporters as he arrives at the investigation team's office in southern Seoul on Jan. 12, 2017. (Yonhap)

South Korea's largest family-run conglomerate is suspected of having struck a 22 billion-won (US$18.3 million) contract with a Germany-based firm owned by Choi and her daughter under the name of a consulting arrangement to fund the daughter's equestrian training.

There have been allegations that the contract was signed in return for the state-run pension fund's backing of a major merger deal between Samsung subsidiaries in 2015. Investigators are looking into whether the presidential office pressured the pension fund to support the merger in return for favors Samsung gave to Choi.

Moon Hyung-pyo, chief of the National Pension Service and former health minister, was formally arrested last month over his role in the merger deal.

Samsung donated 20.4 billion won to two nonprofit foundations that may have been influenced by Choi, which is the largest amount given by any local business group.

South Korean conglomerate chiefs that donated to the foundations said, for the most part, they thought the money given was for a good cause to promote South Korean culture abroad and the sports sector, and there was no thought of getting anything in return. They also said they were not in a position to shrug off the wishes of the president when she asked for help on the matter, hinting they were worried that rejecting the request could lead to repercussions.

Park was impeached by parliament for her supposed involvement in the scandal on Dec. 9.

During a parliamentary hearing held last month, Lee stressed several times that the group "never took part in the donation, seeking any kind of a benefit in return."

The independent counsel on Wednesday requested the parliamentary panel, which questioned the figures during the hearing, to file a formal complaint against Lee for perjury.

This file photo, taken on Dec. 6, 2016, shows Samsung's heir apparent Lee Jae-yong at a parliamentary hearing in Seoul to undergo questioning over a mega corruption scandal centered on President Park Geun-hye and her friend. (Yonhap)

scaaet@yna.co.kr
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